High positivity and case rates keeps county from advancing in state’s reopening guidelines

San Benito and 32 other counties are under maximum restrictions.
Much of the state is still in the purple (widespread) tier, including San Benito County. Image from the Blueprint for a Safer Economy website.
Much of the state is still in the purple (widespread) tier, including San Benito County. Image from the Blueprint for a Safer Economy website.

San Benito County’s 18.9% coronavirus case rate and 11.3% positivity rate per 100,000 people puts it in the rank of “widespread” for COVID-19, according to the color-based Blueprint for a Safer Economy criteria released by the state of California on Aug. 28 as guidance for reopening businesses. Each county is assigned one of four tiers based on the most recent three-week metrics.

County Health and Human Services Agency Director Tracey Belton said the data was current as of Sept. 7.

San Benito County is in the purple (“widespread”) tier along with 32 other counties. It’s the most restrictive tier, followed by red (“substantial”), orange (“moderate”) and yellow (“minimal”). The criteria for each tier are as follows:

  • Tier 1-Purple: More than 7% case rate and more than 8% positivity rate.
  • Tier 2-Red: Between 4%-7% case rate, and between 5%- 8% positivity rate.
  • Tier 3-Orange: Between 1%-3.9% case rate and between 2%-4.9% positivity rate. 
  • Tier 4-Yellow: Less than 1% case rate and less than 2% positivity rate.

As of Sept. 8, there are 14 counties in the red tier, including Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Nine counties are in the orange tier and two are in the yellow tier.

Belton said the data is reviewed weekly and the county must meet the next tier’s requirement for two consecutive weeks before advancing. Counties are also required to stay three weeks within their current tier before moving to the next one.

Belton said the agency included a link in their website to the state’s searchable map that allows residents to compare a county’s case rate and positivity rate metrics. As of Sept. 8, here is how San Benito County’s metrics —18.9% and 11.3%— compare to surrounding counties:

  • Monterey County: 15.1% and 9.9% 
  • Fresno County: 12.6% and 9.8% 
  • Merced County: 13.3% and 7.5%  
  • Santa Clara County: 6.9% and 3.5%  
  • Santa Cruz County: 5.7% and 3.8%  

The purple tier allows indoor operations for hair salons, barbershops, retail, and shopping centers with modifications. Outdoor activities allowed include personal care services, places of worship, movie theaters, gyms and fitness centers, restaurants, wineries and family entertainment centers such as mini golf and kart racing. Bars, breweries and distilleries where no meals are provided will remain closed until Tier 3.

In her presentation, Belton said since the OptumServe testing site is set to close after September, and that the county is collaborating with Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital to expand its testing capacity. Since opening on May 5, there have been 8,582 tests conducted at the Veterans Memorial Building site, of which 2,825 were people not living in the county, yielding 373 positive and 5,666 negative results for county residents.

Belton said while the site has had its problems, it’s been doing much better.

“They are doing much better on the turnaround time for the testing. I think people are receiving their results in three to four days now, which is still not great but it’s way better than six to seven days.”

Following a brief discussion by county supervisors on whether they should have moved forward with a fining ordinance to enforce face covering, resident and San Benito County Local Agency Formation Commission board member Richard Bettencourt sided with Supervisor Peter Hernandez.

“If you guys would’ve fined the folks in this county, I don’t think the numbers would have been any different,” Betencourt said. “You guys would’ve made some more money but I have to agree it’s up to the public and the businesses.”

While others spoke in favor of face coverings and keeping the county as restricted as possible, candidate for District 4 supervisor Dan Valcazar said the ordinance could be used as an educational tool first and then as an administrative fine for those people that decide after several warnings not to comply.

“The spirit behind it versus the letter of the law,” Valcazar said. “The letter of the law might say you can fine somebody. The spirit of the law says, ‘Hey, we’re trying to get cooperation, we’re trying to move people along.’”


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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.